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Caught Between Record Layoffs and Hiring Freezes, IT Execs Face a Buyer's Market

With record layoffs focused on the financial sector, IT execs formerly in high demand may find themselves in high supply.

IT Used to Hire, Inspire IT Execs

In a poetic twist, technology is being used to find ideal candidates for technology positions. According to Accenture's Kraack, "There's an emerging capability for predicting success on the job," which other industries use and banks are starting to adopt. Scoring candidates according to their employability is the most innovative practice he sees in recruitment, Kraack relates. "Scoring candidates increases by 20 percent how good those hired will be in their position and how long they will stay," he contends.

Kraack declines to name particular vendors of such systems. But firms such as Minneapolis-based Previsor, which scores potential recruits, and Philadelphia-based DDI (Developmental Dimensions International), which rates how engaged existing employees are, offer solutions in the space. And the credit bureaus, which have long been used to help employers conduct background checks on job candidates, may provide another source for such scoring. Atlanta-based Equifax, for example, has developed a kind of employability score.

A new entrant in the space is Zapoint, which launched earlier this year. Wyomissing, Pa.-based Sovereign Bank ($85 billion in assets) became Zapoint's first bank customer in June, and the vendor has said it is hopeful that Madrid-based Santander ($1.23 trillion in assets), which is in the process of acquiring Sovereign, will use Zapoint's systems for both hiring and retaining good employees.

During her presentation on Web 2.0 at BS&T's Executive Summit, Anita Sands, managing director and head of transformational management at Citi, suggested that Web 2.0 tools could be used to help banks "tap into employees' knowledge." For questions about who knows whom and what, she said, "Web 2.0 might help us collect answers." Alluding to Citi's recent assessment of Wachovia, Sands noted that such a tool could help identify who within the organization could help quickly gauge the value of an acquisition, for example.

"How do you make knowledge workers more productive? That's the key question now," added Sands.

Retaining the Remaining Talent

With fewer workers now asked to do more, sources say, it's more important than ever for banks to retain their best people.

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo ($1.4 trillion in assets) uses what it understands to be a somewhat unusual approach to retaining IT employees, according to Kathy Shields, the bank's learning and development manager. In conjunction with a provider of on-the-job courses, which Shields declines to name, Wells Fargo provides intensive professional training courses, given by college professors and industry experts. One of its six-week courses packs in as much as many master's degree programs, the bank claims.

Graduates of what Wells Fargo calls its Tech Masters program, offered since 2002, repeatedly express satisfaction with the program, noting that they get to use what they have learned in the course of their jobs and that they benefit from making networking contacts, Shields says. The program, offered to seasoned professionals, may also open access to top executives internally. "Graduates of Tech Masters VII [which covers data, information management and integration] met regularly with a Wells Fargo executive because he valued their expertise on a key corporate initiative," Shields explains. Another popular course, she adds, is advanced Web development, which was the first introduced by the bank.

This service by an employer, a win-win for both sides, speaks to a point made by Accenture consultant Kraack. "Many IT people can move across industries," he says. But those with the best prospects are engaged in highly sought areas, such as Web development, data security and risk management.

As for others who might have been with their companies for a long time, running "the spaghetti nest" of legacy and proprietary applications, Kraack adds, "Their street value may not be as good as they would like." Knowledge of older technologies, such as COBOL and Fortran, used for core processing or loan reconciliation, was sufficient to make such employees highly valuable to the bank they were with, he notes, but they will not be readily transferable to other industries.

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